Tuesday, 26 January 2016

A Missunderstanding 30 January 1939

 “You will be fine,” said John. “Absolutely fine. You’ll learn very quickly once you start school. Your uncle said you learnt Italian really quickly?”
“That was different,” wailed Renate. “We’d had lessons at school and then we only had to speak it to the skiing instructor. Tomorrow I’ve got to be able to understand everything in school.”
“And I’m giving you lessons,” said John. “It’s all around you all the time. The school is, thank God, anyway, exactly like the one you were going to go to in Stuttgart.”       
“Except that they all speak English,” muttered Renate.
“So we should practice now,” said John. “Come on, we shall speak English. Tell me everything you see!”
It was an unusually warm day for January. There were ducks and even swans bobbing along happily on the Thames. Renate could hardly believe that the trees and the birds and the bees were going on as normal – in fact better than normal – despite  all the strange things that were happening to her. The sun made the water sparkle and you could see the reflections of all the tall buildings quite clearly on the water.
“Come on, then,” said John slowly in English. “What can you see?”
“Ich kann eine,” Renate started. She didn’t even know how to say “I can”.
“I can,” John said slowly for her.                        
 “Well, I can see a bridge, Tower Bridge,” said Renate carefully.“And Big Ben. Zhe-” She really did have trouble with “the”. She paused, took a deep breath, and placed her tongue firmly between her teeth. “The Houses of Parliament in London- the capital of - the United Kingdom.”
Mrs Smith nodded and smiled. She muttered something to John. He laughed.
“My mother thinks you sound like a tourist book,” he said.
 “What can you see on the river?” he asked, switching back to German. . 
“I can see some boots, and I can see a bugger,” replied Renate.
“What?” asked Mrs Smith.
A gentleman who was standing next to them cleared his throat and frowned at Renate.
“I can see a big bugger,” repeated Renate, looking sideways at the man, wondering why he seemed so hot and bothered.
“Well, really,” he muttered and hurried away.
“Bugger?” asked John. “Where did you learn that word?” he added in German.  You mustn’t say that. It’s a really bad swear word.”
“What have you been teaching her?” asked Mrs Smith.
“What do you mean?” asked John, ignoring Mrs Smith’s question.
“Look, bugger,” said Renate, pointing at the large craft which was slowly making its way upriver.
“Dredger,” said John. “That’s a dredger.” He laughed. “Of course. You’re trying to say the German word the English way,” he added in German.
“Oh, I’ll never get the hang of this stupid language,” moaned Renate, blushing bright red. “They’ll all laugh at me tomorrow.”
“They won’t laugh,” said John. He translated for his mother.
Mrs Smith gave her a huge hug. She said something which Renate could not understand, and shook her head violently. 
“They’re going to be nice,” said John in German. “But you’ve got to see the funny side of it. That man thought you were calling him a very rude word.”
He explained to Mrs Smith. She put her hand over her mouth and went very red. Then her eyes twinkled and suddenly she was laughing. 
 “Go on, laugh,” said John. 
Suddenly Renate found herself giggling helplessly at the thought of the gentleman’s face. And laughing made her feel better. Perhaps tomorrow would not be so bad after all.   

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